A shipwreck – tourist attraction or eyesore?

Last October whilst we spent some relaxing days on a vineyard in Italy, we decided to visit the beautiful island of Giglio (lily island) off the Tuscan coast, which got some unintentional headlines after the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank just a few hundred meters away from Porto Giglio in January 2012.

The easiest to reach the island is by making your way to Porto Santo Stefano, a pretty village on the peninsula Monte Argentario at the Tyrrhenian Sea.

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From there various companies offer boat or ferry rides to the island, which is approximately a one-hour trip away from the mainland. Tickets can be bought directly at the counters along the main road. We found that prices did vary quite a bit and as we were visiting during off-season the package deals were no longer available (we paid approximately 25 Euros per person for a return trip).

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When approaching the island we tried to spot the partially sunk cruise ship, which was not an easy task as due to the low afternoon sun the island was already lying in the shade. As we came closer the wreck became visible but – to our astonishment – even so the ship was upright after having been turned two weeks before our visit, at least 7 decks were still under water. Around the ship a floating oil barrier as well as huge platforms were installed to foster the marine salvage and wreck removal operations which are expected to go on until summer 2014 before the Costa Concordia is re-floated and towed away to an Italian port for scrapping.

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Whilst the port side of the cruise liner looked as any normal ship, the starboard side is showing immense damage and it becomes evitable with what force the ship tilted. 

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The enormous construction and the ship itself demand all your attention when arriving into Porto Giglio, which distracts from the beauty of the harbor. It is understandable that the inhabitants of Giglio – which lies within the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, one of the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance – are concerned that the wreck is an eyesore that turns away tourists, which are crucial to the local economy. The island is famous for scuba diving, has some pretty beaches and everything the charming village with its small restaurants, bars and shops along the shore.

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It felt strange to see the set up tents for the rescue operations from police divers, fire fighters and personnel involved in the salvage operations, which by far outnumbered the tourists. As out of place the rescue personnel seemed you also realized that they had become part of the island’s every-day-life in the nearly two years since the shipwreck. Men from all over world wearing different uniforms, from private companies and officials, were sitting together the local bars, coffee shops and restaurants ordering a drink and some food, looking familiar with each other and the place.

We sailed away from the island being deeply touched by what we have seen, especially as we ourselves spent many months working on such a cruise ship. It felt surreal and real at the same time and we were touched by the thought of how many lives have been impacted by this tragedy in one or the other way.  We were also wondering what life will be on the island once the wreck is removed and life is “back to normal” after such a long period of time.

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